The question we get asked at Kenyon Hall Farm more than any other, by a country mile is: “When are the strawberries ready?” The first call of the year came in on 8th January when it was dark and frosty all around, and during the last month of glorious sunshine we’ve taken something like 50 calls a day asking the very same!
Safe to say there’s a lot of enthusiastic strawberry pickers around here. There's also some uncertainty about when the season is, which is very understandable. This post aims to clear up some of the confusion and give a preview of what to expect from the 2018 season...
So when are the strawberries ready?
The short answer is: late June to mid July but it varies every year. Please always, always, always check the What's Available page on our website for the latest details. The strawberries are the first fruit ready - everything else follows during July.
But for a bit of a longer answer, and to understand why there is no real right answer, please read on...
Timings of a strawberry season vary each year. We’ve grown strawberries since 1978 and in that time they’ve been ready as early as 10th June and started as late as 1st July. Our longest season has stretched on for 8 weeks and our shortest (just last year) came and went in 16 days.
Ignoring this variation for a moment, looking back at 40 years at Kenyon Hall, a typical strawberry season here starts in the second half of June and lasts for about 5 weeks. The season usually peaks in the first and second weeks in July - this is when the quantity and quality is at its best. They then start to tail off towards mid-July, finishing just when the school holidays start. Not good timing!
The timings, length and quality of a strawberry season depend on lots of things. Some we can control, but most are out of our hands. This being England, the biggest factor is of course the weather! A hot start to June can bring the season forward by a couple of weeks, a wet start to July can finish them off fast, and even a wet winter - 6 months before the first red berry even exists - can have a big impact. There’s more on that later, sadly.
Other factors include the variety of strawberries a farmer chooses to grow and the location of the farm. Up here in the northwest of England, outdoor strawberries are only ever available during June and July. If you see British strawberries available in a shop in May or August, they’re either grown in greenhouses and/or a different part of the country. If you see strawberries available between September and April then they’ll have been imported from oversees. The less said about these the better.
What is the 2018 strawberry season looking like?
I’m sorry to say this but not good. After the wall-to-wall sunshine of the last month it’s hard to remember but between last October and this March we had 6 months of almost constant rain. The strawberries (and gooseberries and raspberries) haven’t enjoyed it at all. This will make 2018 a late season – probably starting properly in the last week of June. There will be some fruit available before then but it's likely the first tranche will get picked out quickly.
Much worse than this is the impact on the quality of the season. Spending 6 months in soggy soil has caused the roots on many of the strawberry plants to simply give up. As you would. A worrying number of plants have died off, meaning we could be in for a strawberry season without the bounty of strawberries we’ve enjoyed in the past.
We'll still have some strawberries available and we'll still open the fields for picking, but availability may be intermittent. It might take a bit more effort than usual to fill your punnets and you'll need a bit of luck to time your visit right. This year it might not be possible to simply turn up and expect strawberries to be ready to pick as in previous years.
Assuming the season is not going to be a great one, we’ll do our best to manage the crop and the number of visitors as best we can. We're as keen as anyone to make sure there are as many strawberries available to pick as possible.
In a season such as this - and this isn't the first - it works best for everyone if we can spread visitors out across the summer. Problems can arise if everyone comes at once, picks out the limited strawberries and then we have to close the fields for a week while more fruit ripens. To play your part, you can:
- As always: check our website for regular updates (kenyonhall.co.uk/whats-available). This year we may decide not to make strawberry announcements on social media to prevent our 30,000 followers from all turning up on the same day! The website will always be the best source of information and we'll update it daily with news of availability.
- Plan your visit for ‘off-peak’ times. We're open 9:30am to 5:30pm 7 days a week and with late opening until 8pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the strawberry season. Avoiding the weekends will mean avoiding the crowds, giving you the pick of the crop and a more peaceful visit.
- Consider picking different fruits and veg this year. Even if the strawberries are as poor as we fear, we're optimistic that other crops, especially the peas and sweetcorn are looking good. So maybe a trip later in the summer for some veggies would still give you your Pick Your Own fix!
- Bear with us! We know how much everyone enjoys picking their fruit here with us and we spend our year caring for our crops as best we can. But sometimes the English conditions just conspire against us. We’ll do our best to welcome as many Pick Your Owners as possible and if this year doesn't work out then there's always next year. We're farmers and we'll keep ploughing on!
In the meantime, thanks for reading. Please feel free to ask a question below and I'll do my best to answer. And if you think this information is useful, please spread the word...
James Bulmer, 30th May 2018